Politics Blog

Ericksen’s oil train bill moves one step closer to floor vote

UPDATE: The bill was moved to the Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, Jan. 28, and a vote there will decide if and when it moves on to the Rules Committee.

Sen. Doug Ericksen’s oil train safety bill was approved by the committee he chairs on Tuesday, Jan. 27. It will now move to the Senate Rules Committee before possibly getting a vote on the floor.

The Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee amended Senate Bill 5057 Tuesday, to include provisions that would expand state authority to inspect rail crossings and form a workgroup that would look to see if more regulations are necessary for marine oil transport on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor, according to an announcement from Ericksen’s office.

The bill had a public hearing before the committee the first week of the session, when Ericksen and other committee members heard from industry representatives as well as concerned citizens. Many people at the hearing commended the bill as a good first step, but asked Ericksen to consider expanding it to include some of the additional provisions found in a competing oil safety bill introduced on behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee.

Some of those who spoke asked to extend a barrel tax that already applies to crude oil transported by vessel not only to rail, as Ericksen’s bill would, but also to pipelines.

In a work session last week, Inslee’s staff worked with the committee and asked for a slew of changes, including requiring advanced reporting before oil is transferred, changing definitions that relate to oil safety, as well as asking concerned parties to assess the risk at ports, the Columbia River, and Grays Harbor in particular.

From Ericksen’s announcement:

“ ‘The public is right to be concerned about the safe transportation of oil by rail,’ Ericksen said. ‘That’s what we address with this bill - we want to make sure these shipments are done safe and done right. This is an important bill that offers important protections for the people of the state of Washington.’ ...

A key difference between Ericksen’s bill and a competing measure introduced on behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee, SB 5087, is that it keeps its focus on rail, and it does not provide a broad grant of authority to state agencies to update maritime-transportation rules. A workgroup study of the issue offers a solid middle ground, Ericksen said.”

The announcement goes on to list the central components of Ericksen’s bill:

“•  Requires the Department of Ecology to review and complete oil-spill response plans.

•  Requires Ecology to provide grants to ensure first responders are equipped for spills.

•  Extends the oil-spill tax, currently levied on tanker shipments of crude oil, to include deliveries by rail.

•  Requires Ecology and the Utilities and Transportation Commission to host a symposium on oil spill prevention and response.

•  Modernizes the definition of oil for current tanker-safety programs.

•  Allows first-class cities to opt-in to UTC’s railroad-crossing safety inspection program.

•  Requires local emergency planners to develop hazardous materials plans.

•  Appropriates $10 million from the state Model Toxics Control Account for first responder grants.

•  Allows rail-crossing inspections to be done by certified inspectors employed by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

•  Extends UTC jurisdiction to private rail crossings.

•  Establishes a workgroup to examine whether updates are required in state regulation of maritime transport of oil on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor. The Department of Ecology would convene the workgroup, with representatives from the oil and rail industries, businesses that receive crude oil in bulk, Grays Harbor and Columbia River safety committees, maritime fire safety associations, the Coast Guard, Columbia River and Grays Harbor public ports and Columbia River pilots.”